Jane Austen, Mansfield Park: Ch. 13

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Chapter XIII

The Honourable John Yatesw, this new friend, had not much to recommend him beyond habits of fashion and expense, and being the younger son of a lord with a tolerable independence; and Sir Thomas would probably have thought his introduction at Mansfield by no means desirable. Mr. Bertram's acquaintance with him had begun at Weymouth, where they had spent ten days together in the same society, and the friendship, if friendship it might be called, had been proved and perfected by Mr. Yates's being invited to take Mansfield in his way, whenever he could, and by his promising to come; and he did come rather earlier than had been expected, in consequence of the sudden breaking-up of a large party assembled for gaiety at the house of another friend, which he had left Weymouth to join. He came on the wings of disappointment, and with his head full of acting, for it had been a theatrical party; and the play in which he had borne a part was within two days of representation, when the sudden death of one of the nearest connexions of the family had destroyed the scheme and dispersed the performers. To be so near happiness, so near fame, so near the long paragraph in praise of the private theatricals at Ecclesford, the seat of the Right Hon. Lord Ravenshaw, in Cornwall, which would of course have immortalised the whole party for at least a twelvemonth! and being so near, to lose it all, was an injury to be keenly felt, and Mr. Yates could talk of nothing else. Ecclesford and its theatre, with its arrangements and dresses, rehearsals and jokes, was his never-failing subject, and to boast of the past his only consolation.

Happily for him, a love of the theatre is so general, an itch for acting so strong among young people, that he could hardly out-talk the interest of his hearers. From the first casting of the parts to the epilogue it was all bewitching, and there were few who did not wish to have been a party concerned, or would have hesitated to try their skill. The play had been Lovers' Vowsh, and Mr. Yates was to have been Count Cassel. "A trifling part," said he, "and not at all to my taste, and such a one as I certainly would not accept again; but I was determined to make no difficulties. Lord Ravenshaw and the duke had appropriated the only two characters worth playing before I reached Ecclesford; and though Lord Ravenshaw offered to resign his to me, it was impossible to take it, you know. I was sorry for him that he should have so mistaken his powers, for he was no more equal to the Baron—a little man with a weak voice, always hoarse after the first ten minutes. It must have injured the piece materially; but I was resolved to make no difficulties. Sir Henry thought the duke not equal to Frederick, but that was because Sir Henry wanted the part himself; whereas it was certainly in the best hands of the two. I was surprised to see Sir Henry such a stick. Luckily the strength of the piece did not depend upon him. Our Agatha was inimitable, and the duke was thought very great by many. And upon the whole, it would certainly have gone off wonderfully."

"It was a hard case, upon my word"; and, "I do think you were very much to be pitied," were the kind responses of listening sympathy.

"It is not worth complaining about; but to be sure the poor old dowager could not have died at a worse time; and it is impossible to help wishing that the news could have been suppressedh for just the three days we wanted. It was but three days; and being only a grandmother, and all happening two hundred miles off, I think there would have been no great harm, and it was suggested, I know; but Lord Ravenshaw, who I suppose is one of the most correct men in England, would not hear of it."

"An afterpiecew instead of a comedy," said Mr. Bertram. "Lovers' Vows were at an end, and Lord and Lady Ravenshaw left to act My Grandmother by themselves. Well, the jointurew may comfort him; and perhaps, between friends, he began to tremble for his credit and his lungs in the Baron, and was not sorry to withdraw; and to make you amends, Yates, I think we must raise a little theatre at Mansfield, and ask you to be our manager."

X [w] The Honourable John Yates

Class

The title means that Yates is a younger son of a peer below the rank of Marquess. His aristocratic family background invites Tom's obsequious imitation, indicating the substantial difference, at least in Tom's mind, between a baronet and the aristocracy.

X [h] Lovers' Vows

Writing & Reading

August von Kotzbue's 1790 play Das Kind der Liebe (The Child of Love, a euphemism for bastard child), substantially revised and retitled by Mrs. Elizabeth Inchbald, a dramatist, actress, and novelist, was a popular success when staged in 1798.  

The play is eminently moral (more on the play in Ch. 14) and would not, to use the test, cause a young girl of this time to blush. The pro…

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X [h] the news could have been suppressed

Manners & Morals

Yates reveals his impudent nature. Death is a solemnity to be respected. His calibrating the obsequies by its being "only a grandmother" (yet as a dowager a most important one) and by her dying 200 miles off says everything we need to know about him.

He, Tom, and Rushworth embody "puppydom."  The three young men are coming into positions of great power and wealth. To the degree they are representative, they bode ill for the landed gentry's future. 

X [w] afterpiece

Writing & Reading

He compares her life with Prince Hoare's My Grandmother, 1811, "a musical farce in two acts."

Tom's wit is at the cost of decency. The dowager's death is trivialized as an after-piece, a comparatively insignificant work following the principal one, the comedy of her life. 

Tom's remarks show a deplorable lack of respect. This attitude will help explain some of what follows.

X [w] jointure

Custom & Law

Property and money that may originate in the wife's dowry as well as in that the husband sets aside, which will be for the joint support of the household. The legal arrangement of the jointure includes its eventual disbursement in case of his predeceasing her was described in the articles of marriage. Typically the jointure goes to the widow as a life-interest, and is then passed on to a designated heir.